The Luxury of Writing Children’s Books #guestpost by @PatFurstenberg

Patricia Furstenberg Author

Today I’m joined by author Patricia Furstenburg who has written a really lovely post about the joy of writing for children. Her latest book is Puppy, 12 Months of Rhymes and Smiles and is available on Amazon: Puppy

Puppy: 12 Months of Rhymes and Smiles by [Furstenberg, Patricia]

The luxury of writing children’s books

Joanne, thank you for inviting me to “Portobello Book Blog”. It is a thrill and an honor to be here, with such a gracious host and among such accomplished authors.

I write children’s books. Like Sleeping Beauty (the comparison stops here), I woke up one morning writing a story about an elephant. Then about a dog, then about another dog, as dogs to live in packs, don’t they? And the stories kept pouring, fairy-tales, make-believe, poetry… you name it, for kids.

I look left and right, especially on Twitter. There are so many great authors there whose work I admire; the Indie community is abundant, generous, spirited. Where do I stand, among them?

Writing for children often means that you have to know how a child thinks, how they react in a certain situation. What is it that kids finds funny? My own children are too old for such experiments so I pay attention to the little ones I see in the mall. But believe me, following a parent to hear what his offspring thinks of the cabbage that rolled across the floor in the fresh products sector… is not very glamorous. And if that is not enough, along with writing on a level that is appealing to young children you have to write for the parent that will read the story as well. Actually the parent has to like the story in the first place since he will pay for it and he will be the one to “have to” read it again and again… and again and, hopefully, still find it enduring.

They say that if you want to write a historical novel you have to familiarize yourself with the era so much that you can walk its streets and live that life without standing out. The same goes with writing for children, one has to read children’s books and no, the ones you read to your own kids over ten years ago don’t count. The themes have changed; the approach is different; the expectations have increased. So, while my husband enjoys R.R Martin, I reach for a colourful, square book about a little mouse and his adventures. Is he going to make it alive? Will he learn a lesson that’s not too obvious – kids are so perceptive! I don’t know how Mary Poppins managed, but “just a spoonful of sugar” never helped “the medicine go down” in our home.

Having appealing characters is vital when writing for children and, even if you end up with only two pages of text (if writing an illustrated book), making sure your characters are lovable and realistic is paramount. One of my recent books is about a Cheetah and a Dog. We all know dogs, but cheetah? “The tiger has stripes like long thin pipes, but a leopard has lots of spots,” (says the childhood rhyme). Okay, I get it, but what about a cheetah? What makes her stand out? I know how fast a puppy can run, but a cheetah? And is she sleeping in a tree or on the ground? Do cheetah live in packs?

Next, do I need an anti-hero? Who should it be? How scary can you make him? (- my other voice pops in). I need to consider the age I write for. Never mind, the parents will be there to comfort the child (- she says). But if I scare them, they won’t want to read my book again, or the next one. A little bit of a fright never harmed anyone (- she grins, pushing from the corner of my mind). But I don’t want to scare little children! Just make up your mind! (- and she slams her fist onto the table).

So I have my lovable main characters, my scoundrel, the setting, the happenings and the climax. I have the lesson that needs to be learned (sugar coated, Mary Poppins “said!”) – now I must condensate everything in two pages, 500 -800 words, make it child-friendly and, at the same time, entertaining for grown-ups. And when done, read it about one hundred times and if I can still enjoy it, move further and do the illustrations. But that’s another story.

As for rewards? Money, fame or appreciation, what is more valuable? The joy to write is what matters right now. And seeing children smile when they open my books.

Social media and contact links

Author Website:

Amazon UK:


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In The Freethinker’s Footsteps – online project @VagabondVoices

I was recently made aware of a brilliant online project from independent publisher Vagabond Voices called In The Freethinker’s Footsteps and wanted to share a bit about it with you. 

With In The Freethinker’s Footsteps, you can experience a taste of  Edinburgh’s murky past. The project has grown out of Heather  Richardson’s novel, Doubting Thomas, which is inspired by the  fascinating true story of Thomas Aikenhead, the last person to be executed in Britain for blasphemy. Using an interactive map of the city,  you can uncover soundbites, historical trivia, and stories of sex, drugs  and religious outrage at every turn.

There’s a live tour of Thomas Aikenhead’s Edinburgh led by Doubting Thomas author Heather Richardson taking place on 27th November which I have booked on and am very much looking forward to.  It’s free but you do need to register as space is limited – register here.

The interactive map of Thomas’s Edinburgh is not only accompanied by  audio clips and quotes, but by a five-episode podcast series exploring  different elements of the book. In the first episode – available now online – Stewart Ennis reads Thomas Aikenhead’s final words, written  shortly before his execution in 1697. Upcoming episodes will feature  discussions with Heather Richardson, Dr Michael Graham (The Blasphemies of Thomas Aikenhead), and Dr Catriona MacLeod, an expert on women in 17th Century Scotland.

The site also features a library of banned books – The Freethinkers’  Library. If you wonder which ideas would have thrown you in jail next to Thomas, you can poke your nose into a clutch of licentious and strange  texts, from Christianity Not Mysterious, to the very pamphlet that may have sent Thomas to his death: his classmate Mungo Craig’s A Satyr Against Atheistical Deism: An Account of Mr. Aikenhead.

The project is available here:

There is also more information about the project in this article on  Books From Scotland:


Buy a copy of the book online here

This is a story of sex, drugs and blasphemy in late seventeenth-century Edinburgh experienced through four viewpoints over fifteen years: Dr Robert Carruth, his wife Isobel, and university students Mungo Craig and Thomas Aikenhead.

After participating in the particularly gruesome autopsy of a pregnant prisoner, Robert is unable to consummate his marriage to Isobel. He buries himself in work, and his overzealousness contributes to the demise of a down-at-heel apothecary named James Aikenhead. Fifteen years pass and the apothecary’s son, Thomas, appears at the Carruths’ door seeking recompense for his father’s death. At his side is Mungo Craig, a cunning poet with dubious loyalties. The two insinuate their way into Robert and Isobel’s life, freshly exposing old fault lines in the Carruths’ marriage and subjecting them to dangerous new pressure.

© Elaine Hill 
Author Heather Richardson (c) Elaine Hill

Moonlight Over Manhattan by @SarahMorgan_ #review @HQStories

Moonlight Over Manhattan by [Morgan, Sarah]
*Review copy from publisher

My next festive reading recommendation comes from Sarah Morgan “The Queen of Christmas” as it said on my review copy. I hadn’t realised but this is part of a series of books and is in fact the sixth in the From Manhattan with Love series. Now I haven’t read any of them and if you haven’t either, don’t be put off as this reads perfectly as a standalone novel. If you have read the others, I believe you will meet some characters who featured in some of the previous novels.

This novel focuses on Harriet Knight who is like me in many ways, one of which being she likes being firmly inside her comfort zone. Previously, Harriet would have said her “idea of taking a risk is reading my Kindle in the bath”. I had to smile at that as that’s something I do too but have never really considered it a risk. Unlike me, she has decided that she is going to do something about her quiet life and has challenged herself to do something which scares her every day from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Which is why we first meet her hanging out a restaurant’s toilet window, wearing very high heels as she attempts to leave a disastrous date she set up through online dating. And which is how she first meets Dr Ethan Black when she goes to the emergency room fearing she has broken her ankle. Their paths cross again when she is dog-walking his sister’s dog and ends up agreeing to move into his apartment to look after the dog. (Don’t call her ‘the dog’ in front of Harriet, she’s called Madi! Another difference between us is that she very much a dog person and I am very much not!)

This is a fabulous escapist read, particularly if you have ever wanted to visit New York in winter. The cold and snow was so vividly described as well as the beautiful skiing resort in Vermont – and I so wanted to stay in that cosy sounding lodge with its roaring fire. Sarah Morgan made New York in the snow sound very appealing and Dr Black sounded rather appealing too! He was quite a frustrating character in some ways as he seemed blind to everything but his work. And yet, he clearly did have the capacity to love as shown by his love for his sister and his care for his colleague Susan – eventually he even softened his attitudes towards dogs. Harriet was a character who I think many people would find it easy to identify with. She was lacking in self-confidence and it was clear that much of this had stemmed from her childhood experiences. She loved her brother and twin sister very much but seemed to have given up on any thoughts of romantic happiness for herself, preferring to spend her time with her beloved dogs who never let her down.

Moonlight over Manhattan is a wonderfully romantic festive novel with plenty drama and showing many aspects of caring for other people, not just romantically. There is a lot of warm humour too, often provided courtesy of the various dogs Harriet looks after. If you want a feel-good novel to read this Christmas then this is one you can add to your list.

My thanks to Anna Massardi  at Harper Collins for my review copy of this book. Moonlight over Manhattan is published by HQ  and is available in both ebook and paperback format. You can order a copy online here: Moonlight Over Manhattan

From the back of the book

She’ll risk everything for her own Christmas miracle…

Determined to conquer a lifetime of shyness, Harriet Knight challenges herself to do one thing a day in December that scares her, including celebrating Christmas without her family. But when dog-walker Harriet meets her newest client, exuberant spaniel Madi, she adds an extra challenge to her list – dealing with Madi’s temporary dog-sitter, gruff doctor Ethan Black, and their very unexpected chemistry.

Ethan thought he was used to chaos, until he met Madi – how can one tiny dog cause such mayhem? To Ethan, the solution is simple – he will pay Harriet to share his New York apartment and provide 24-hour care. But there’s nothing simple about how Harriet makes him feel.

Ethan’s kisses make Harriet shine brighter than the stars over moonlit Manhattan. But when his dog-sitting duties are over, and Harriet returns to her own home, will she dare to take the biggest challenge of all – letting Ethan know he has her heart for life, not just for Christmas?

A Very Vintage Christmas by Tilly Tennant #review @TillyTenWriter @bookouture


A Very Vintage Christmas: A heartwarming Christmas romance (An Unforgettable Christmas Book 1) by [Tennant, Tilly]

*Thanks to the publishers for my review copy

Any book which starts with the characters discussing James Stewart films is fine by me. I knew within a few pages I was going to love this book and I did!

Dodie is the owner of Forget-Me-Not Vintage, a shop selling vintage clothes and accessories and I have to say, her passion for her business make it sound like a wonderful shop to visit. When she finds an old love letter from World War Two in the pocket of one of the coats in her shop, she embarks on a quest to find out what happened to the writer and recipient and return it to the rightful owner. With not much to go on, she decides first of all to visit the address on the envelope.  The problem is the full name and address has been worn off so she has to try random houses on the street. And at one of these houses, she meets Ed Willoughby who also, initially reluctantly, becomes involved in the search.

Finding that letter in the old jacket was a terrific hook to keep me absorbed in this story. I would love to find something like that tucked away in an attic, an old book or, as in the story, in old clothes. Like Dodie, I would be desperate to know about the people too and would probably become obsessed with finding out about them.

Alongside the mystery aspect of this story, Tilly Tennant really brought to life the Christmas atmosphere in the town making wish that our own Christmas Markets were already open for me to wander around. The author described the delicious smells from the stalls along with all the twinkling lights and the Christmas music in the air so well, that I could picture the scene easily.

Edinburgh’s Christmas market

There was of course a romantic element to the story too with Dodie becoming attracted to Ed which was making her question her relationship with Ryan. Or Brian as her slightly dotty Gran insisted on calling him. I had a real soft spot for Dodie’s Gran – she provided a lot of funny moments throughout the book and the close relationship between them was touchingly portrayed. Ed was a really interesting character as his moods seemed to swing from one extreme to another which was confusing for Dodie. As we learned more about his background, he became easier to understand. But could he be ‘her very own James Stewart’? When she is already thinking of him as “so gorgeous…lovely and kind, chivalrous and considerate, deep and interesting” I think us readers already know what we want the answer to be!

A Very Vintage Christmas is a heartwarming Christmas read which I loved. It’ll definitely put you in the mood for Christmas, it’s very romantic and the mystery of the letter is such a lovely part of the story. I’d say this is a must-read for the festive season, a story to leave you feeling all warm inside whatever the weather outside.

Thanks to publishers Bookouture for my review copy of this book. A Very Vintage Christmas is available now in both paperback and ebook format. You can order a copy online here. Tilly Tennant has another Christmas book out this year too called A Cosy Candlelit Christmas which follows Dodie’s friend Isla, who we meet in this book, as she travels to France.  You can order that here.

From the back of the book

The fairy lights are up and shoppers are flooding the snowy seaside promenade. It’s going to be a busy month at Forget-Me-Not Vintage, a magical shop with a warm heart where every item has a story to be told.

With bright red hair and an infectious smile, Dodie is a hopeless romantic and absolutely one of a kind, just like the pieces in her shop. 

When Dodie finds a love letter in the pocket of an old woollen coat, she makes it her mission to deliver it to its rightful owner. Following the address, she manages to persuade the handsome but reluctant new tenant, Edward, to help her with her search.

As the story of the letter unfolds, Dodie is there, as always, to pick up the pieces and make things right. But who will be there for her when her own love story needs a helping hand? 

Is it too much to dream of a happy ending like the ones in the black and white movies she adores? 

Russell Robertson – Author in the Spotlight @harrycramoz

Russell Robertson

I’m pleased to welcome someone who could be described as a local author if only he didn’t live in Australia! Russell Robertson is originally from Edinburgh and his books featuring investigative journalist Harry Cram are set in Portobello and nearby Musselburgh. The first in the series, Windsor Place,  is available in both paperback and as an ebook – order a copy online here.

Thanks for joining me Russell. First of all, would you tell my blog-readers a little about yourself?

I was born in Edinburgh, brought up and educated in Portobello. After a stint as a professional soccer player, my wife and I moved to Brisbane, Australia in 1974 and have lived there ever since.  I have been involved in my own companies for over thirty years, ranging from sales, marketing, real estate and lately an internet translation company. I love travelling and to date have visited over thirty- five countries. I have been married to Margaret for  over forty years and have one son and three wonderful grandchildren.

What inspired you to start writing?

I have always had a desire to create a novel that would be accepted and loved by all Scots who can identify with the main character and at the same time bring back memories to all the expats living overseas.  Hopefully Harry Cram can fulfil that role.

Tell me about your journey to publication

That has been a long journey. I started keeping notes about events and characters that I met over time, with the idea to write a crime fiction thriller. Unfortunately, my business interest got in the way over the next forty years until I decided last year that I needed to start writing full time. One book just out and two further books due for launch within the next year is my commitment to crime writing in the future. I believe Harry Cram can be very successful and my initial target market is of course all Scots around the world.

What is your latest book about?

Windsor Place is a crime thriller about Harry Cram, an Investigative Journalist who returns from Australia to Scotland and sets up his business office in Musselburgh and buys an apartment in Bath Street, Portobello.

After a visit to prison to see a friend, he bumps into an old girlfriend from back in school. They begin an affair that must be hidden from her husband Alf “Billy Bunter” Hunter, one of Edinburgh’s most sadistic and malevolent criminals, who is currently serving a long prison.

Harry’s life is turned upside down when he finds his lover and her two daughters murdered in Sixty-Six Windsor Place. Now, he has to deal with not only the police but her criminal husband. In the middle of all the turmoil, Harry must take an emergency trip to visit China, where his daughter from his first marriage is gravely ill. While in China, he receives some stunning information from his contacts in Shanghai that throws the investigation upside down.

How did you come up with the title for your book?

Simple, my grandparents actually owned a property in Windsor Place in the fifties. I visited the property last year and was made very welcome by the current owners. Obviously, because the murders in the book take place in that house. I needed to protect them, so I made up the number sixty-six Windsor Place (That street number does not exist)

How did you celebrate publication day?

Publication for my debut Harry Cram novel was very low key. I always planned a soft launch, as I believe you need more than one novel to launch your characters and the books into the marketplace properly. I have set up a programme for a hard launch next year, which will include a promotional tour.

Do you have a work in progress just now?

Everlasting Guilt[734]

For sure. My second book, Everlasting Guilt, which is due to be launched in March 2018 is the second novel in the Harry Cram series.

While berthed in The Firth of Forth, the luxury cruise ship Atlantic Ocean is attacked by terrorists, throwing the city and authorities into turmoil. A Cabinet meeting of COBRA is urgently convened and the British Government dispatches Cpt. Gordon Graynor from MI5 and two of his agents to Edinburgh to take control and investigate the crime. Investigative Journalist Harry Cram and his partner Skye Livingstone return home from Australia as they learn that two of their friends were onboard the ship, presumed dead. After many fatalities on the cruise ship, the relatives seek answers to the lack of security on the cruise liner and engage Harry Cram to gather information allowing them to lodge a class action against the Company operating the cruise line.

Cram also has unfinished business in Edinburgh trying to find out who murdered his previous partner.

In the middle of the investigation, a never to be released psychopath imprisoned in the State Mental Hospital contacts the police claiming that he has valuable information into the terror attack and is willing to trade that information in return for a release date.

Can they afford to ignore his claims that another attack is imminent?

I am also working on the third Harry Cram novel due for release in December 2018.

What’s your favourite book you’ve read in the past few months? Or favourite three if you really can’t choose!

Tripwire (Jack Reacher, Book 3) by [Child, Lee]

What are you reading just now? 

If you were on Desert Island Discs, what one book would you take with you?

Guinness World Records 2018 by [World Records, Guinness]

Is there a book you’d like to see made into a film? Who would be in your dream cast?

Windsor Place – Harry Cram novel!

Seriously, I would love to see Lennox by Craig Russell made into a movie with James McEvoy playing the lead.

Lennox by [Russell, Craig]

How can people follow you or connect with you on social media?



Twitter: @harrycramoz

Facebook: Harry Cram

And finally, if you could be a character in any book you have read, who would it be and why?

It would have to be John Rebus in the Ian Rankin series.  Simply because he is a great character.

Joe & Clara’s Christmas Countdown by Katey Lovell #review @Katey5678 @HarperImpulse


Joe and Clara's Christmas Countdown by [Lovell, Katey]
*Review copy via Netgalley

My next Christmas read is Joe & Clara’s Christmas Countdown by Katey Lovell. This is set very firmly in the festive season with the exception of the prologue. Clara works in a local youth centre in Manchester which provides vital services for the young people in the area. As with many such services, the centre is struggling for funds and volunteers. However, new volunteer Joe looks like he could be the answer to some of their problems and in centre manager Deirdre’s view, he could also be the perfect man for Clara! Clara has had her heart broken by footballer and ex-fiancee Dean and has sworn off men. She is, however, a massive fan of Christmas. The festive season for Joe though brings back sad memories of a tragedy which happened just before Christmas 8 years ago. They make a pact and agree on a Christmas Countdown: Clara will give Joe gifts to try to remind him that Christmas can be magical and Joe will take Clara out, as a friend, to remind her that she can enjoy the company of men. Each chapter covers one day and alternates between the points of view of Joe and Clara.

Can I just say first how much I love that cover? It’s simple yet eye-catching and effective. And I also really enjoyed the story in between. You may well feel you know exactly how the story will end but sometimes that isn’t a bad thing. The joy of reading is wondering what path the author will lead you along to get to that point. Joe and Clara were both really interesting characters. They were both caring and compassionate people who deserved to have happiness in their own lives but, as becomes understandable as you read, they both have very good reasons for being wary of love. Throughout the story the author brings current social issues into the story too with mention of families needing to access foodbanks, under-funding of important services, and she shows the importance of places for young people to go and have positive influences especially in less affluent areas. That perhaps sounds like it might be a bit preachy and heavy going but it isn’t really, just a natural part of the story given the importance of the Youth Club and the young people who use it.

Joe & Clara’s Christmas Countdown is a very sweet story which shows the magic of Christmas working in the lives of these two people. It is one of these books which will leave you with a contented sigh at the end and one to add to your Christmas reading list.

My thanks to the publishers Harper Impulse for my review copy of the book via Netgalley. Joe & Clara’s Christmas Countdown is available now as an ebook (order a copy online here) and the paperback version will be published on 30 November.

From the back of the book

This Christmas she’ll give her heart to someone special…

As Christmas approaches Joe Smith knows he should be celebrating with friends and family, making the most of the season. But for Joe, Christmas only holds painful memories. Ones he can feel crushing his heart, a reminder of a time he can never forget.

Clara O’Connell loves Christmas. For her it is the most magical time of the year. And she’s determined to make Joe love it too! She knows he’s hurting, but maybe she can help to ease his pain. Her plan: One special gift every day to remind Joe just how loved he is.

But the clock is ticking. Will the Christmas magic wear off at midnight or will Clara’s Christmas countdown be the perfect gift to heal Joe’s broken heart? And in doing so, maybe she will get a gift in return…Joe’s love for Christmas and forever…?

Punch event with Barbara Henderson @scattyscribbler @cranachan books


I was at the Edinburgh Princes Street branch of Waterstones on Saturday for an event about Punch, the latest children’s novel by Barbara Henderson. It’s a really exciting story about a boy on the run with a travelling show in Victorian Scotland. (You can read my review here). It was a packed house on Saturday as Barbara Henderson entertained the crowd with readings and puppetry for the best part of an hour. I took my seven year old nieces and they loved it! They enjoyed getting to be puppeteers and holding the cloth in the makeshift Punch and Judy stall. They also enjoyed getting to scream loudly as they pretended to be a frightened puppet! There was a lovely atmosphere in the shop as members of the public were still browsing when the event was on. I have to say that a slightly worried hush fell when Barbara yelled “Fire! Fire!” during a particularly dramatic part of her reading! The signing queue afterwards looked particularly healthy so lots of people are going to enjoy reading about Phinn’s adventures as he travels around Scotland with travelling folk, an escaped convict and a dancing bear!